BORDERS ARE THE SCARS OF HISTORY
- The Chinese troop’s action of 16 June 2017 to extend an existing road on the Doklam plateau by deploying road construction equipment triggered a massive diplomatic row which threatened to escalate and reach the verge of brinkmanship. The Fallout needs to be put in perspective to comprehend the dynamics of this crisis.
- India and China have long-standing border differences and over the years several negotiations, confidence-building measures, as also diplomatic parleys have seen an uneasy truce on the issue which tends to flare up at most inopportune moments just when everything appears to be heading for normalcy.
- The Doklam plateau, high up in the Himalayas, was a quiet grazing area for Bhutanese herdsmen. The Indo-China conflict of 1962 and its aftermath saw the narrow plateau at the tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan assume significance. By virtue of this unique location, the tri-junction assumes a strategic dimension for the three countries. As part of its global power aspirations, China has been enhancing infrastructure networks closer to the borders.
- Doklam by its peculiar disposition heightens India’s vulnerability of the 27-km-long Siliguri Corridor or ‘chicken’s neck’ that links the northeastern states to the rest of India and any move in this sector alters threat perceptions and intentions.
- By the turn of the millennium, China built a road up the Sinchela pass (in an undisputed territory) and then over the plateau (in disputed territory), leading up to the Doka La pass, until reaching within 68 meters distance to the Indian border post on the Sikkim border. Here, they constructed a turn-around facilitating vehicles to turn back. It is the southward extension of this road that has sparked the 2017 standoff.
- The basic perceptional difference on the the India-China-Bhutan trijunction is :-
- China perceives TRIJUNCTION at Mount Gipmochi (Gyemo Chen).
- India and Bhutan are very clear that China is indicating a location which is far far south into Bhutanese sovereign territory and are thus illegally claiming an additional 89 square kilometers.
- A similar standoff more than 50 years ago in the same area, saw the Indian Government strongly protesting the intrusions
- On both occasions China is piqued by India’s ‘interference’. China feels that by crossing over into Bhutanese territory at Doka la, India had ‘trespassed’ the agreed-upon Sikkim-Tibet border.
- China is clearly attempting to change the boundary at a certain sector by unilateral action in contravention to the previously agreed upon start point of the 1890 convention which has neither been ratified nor documented as such.
- China surprisingly claims that India has entered Bhutan without Bhutan’s concurrence.
- Bhutan claims that the road construction activity at Doklam is in contravention to the China-Bhutan Agreement of 1988 and 1998 wherein peace and tranquility was to be maintained along the border.
- India persistently maintains that any action to violate this status quo unilaterally is an expression of “hostile intent”
- Bhutan’s Security Concern. The constantly hardening stance of China on the Doklam issue is a matter of grave security concern for Bhutan as this foothold is a definite precursor to China’s oft-touted claim of large tracts of Bhutanese territory.
- India’s Concerns. Past incidents of standoffs between India and China was in the western and eastern sectors of the India-China boundary. Disputes in the middle sector are rare. India had agreed to make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments for a ‘package settlement’ in the western, middle and eastern sectors. The boundary settlement must be final, covering all sectors of the India-China boundary.
- Another matter of concern is all across Tibet, China has upgraded Infrastructure that stretches all the way down to Nathu la and right up to the Doklam plateau. The journey from Lhasa to Yadong, on the Chinese side of Nathu la can now be covered in less than eight hours.
- The DOKLAM STANDOFF reveals a distinct hardening of stance by the Chinese.
In the west, China occupies 38,000 sq. km in Aksai Chin, and in the east, Beijing claims most of Arunachal Pradesh, close to 90,000 sq. km.
Any settlement will axiomatically involve a reciprocal foregoing of respective claims which in the near future is a highly unlikely scenario.
- The Doklam standoff is yet another issue in the already enlarged list of differences between India and China. However, the relative calm and mature handling of this sensitive and needling border issues have kept the border peaceful and insulated from other aspects of the relationship.